This book, written in 1949, provided an uplifting end to my 2008 reading. Harold Russell, who won two academy awards for his role in “The Best Years of Our Life” in 1946, wrote this memoir a few years later, when he decided to forego further theatrical work, and instead work for organizations that supported racial, religious, ethnic, and disability-status tolerance, first joining the Anti-Defamation League as a spokesperson. He died in 2002.
A self described “loser” (although I would not describe him that way, he was more of the kind of guy who just never stood out, and maintained an exaggerated feeling of inadequacy, in his early years), Russell matured in the army, where he became a parachutist and demolitions expert, and an instructor at Ft. Benning, Georgia. A training accident left him a double amputee, with the loss of both of his hands. At Walter Reed Hospital, he was fitted with and from then on used, hooks, which enabled him to do just about anything (“anything but pick up the dinner check”, he would say), and his sense of determination helped him overcome his inborn feelings of lack of accomplishment.
The book, written with co-author Victor Rosen, is an archtypical easy read (one day here, for 277 pages), but there is so much chocked into it (life in high school, meeting the girl of his dreams, joining and succeeding in the army, the accident, the rehabilitation in the World War II army medical system, learning to cope physically and mentally, making a film for army use, being “discovered” by Samuel Goldwyn, making the film (directed by William Wyler, with Myrna Loy, Frederic March and Dana Andrews) in Hollywood, winning the two Oscars, becoming famous, developing a sense of disgust for any form of discrimination and wondering why the United States could come together as one in times of war, but fall into opposing groups in times of peace, and deciding on his future career.
In the early 1980s, Russell wrote an updated memoir. I wonder if it as good.